Greens to back ACT motion to debate whether China committing genocide against Uighurs in Xinjiang

The Green Party will back an ACT Party-proposed motion for Parliament to debate whether China is committing genocide against the Uighur people in Xinjiang.

"We have long-supported human rights and what is happening to the Uighur people is simply not acceptable and we think that all governments around the world should be standing in solidarity with them," Greens co-leader Marama Davidson told Newshub on Tuesday afternoon.

The ACT Party last week announced it was filing a motion for Parliament to debate the issue, describing it as "an act of solidarity" with the Canadian and British Parliaments, which earlier this year called China's oppression of about 1 million Uighurs crimes against humanity.

"We have a responsibility as a country that is dedicated to the rule of law to stand up for the dignity and human rights of all people and we should be using our voice as representatives to raise our concern especially when it comes to acts of atrocities in one of our largest trading partners," Brooke van Velden, ACT's Foreign Affairs spokesperson, said last week.

Labour is yet to divulge its position on the motion, with Foreign Affairs Minister and Labour MP Nanaia Mahuta telling reporters on Tuesday afternoon that discussions within Caucus would remain private for now.

"We have had a conversation within Caucus, but the determination and final outcome of that conversation will be released once we are ready to do it," Mahuta said.

Davidson told Newshub she would like to see support across the House, but can't tell other parties what to do.

"Those with a privilege of a platform have a responsibility to stand up for international human rights around the world. What is happening to the Uighur people is simply not acceptable. I think a loud message should be sent and that is what the Greens are supportive of."

Prior to Labour's Caucus meeting on Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Labour's leader, said "genocide" had a specific meaning that needed to be considered. 

"What is being discussed today will be a response to a very particular issue of whether or not a genocide is declared," Ardern told reporters. "The use of that term in the international environment, there is international law that sits around it."

"There will be a discussion around what should we be pushing for so that we have support for the international community to build evidence around that next step. That does not undermine the current position that we have which is very strong."

The use of the word genocide is tied to the United Nations (UN) Genocide Convention, signed in 1948 in the wake of World War II and which has been ratified by New Zealand. 

It defines genocide as any of several acts "committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group". Those acts include killing members of a group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of a group or imposing measures intended to prevent births within a group.

report in March from the Washington DC-based think tank Newlines Institute of Strategy and Policy found China was breaching every prohibited act of the Convention. 

Nanaia Mahuta.
Nanaia Mahuta. Photo credit: Getty.

Ardern on Tuesday wouldn't explicitly say if she personally believed genocide was occurring. 

"My view, and the view of many members of the international community, is that when you step into language like genocide there is international law that sits around the use of that," she said.

"The international community, New Zealand amongst them, has been calling for the ability, unfettered access, for independent individuals to go in and to be able to establish whether or not that indeed is occurring." 

However, during an event on Friday evening, Chinese Ambassador to New Zealand Wu Xi suggested any visit to Xinjiang by observers would have strict conditions. 

Ahead of her Caucus meeting on Tuesday morning, National's Judith Collins said Xinjiang was an issue her party takes "very seriously" and she wanted access to all information the Government currently has on it. She wouldn't give her own personal view on it. 

"We would like to see the information that the Government has on that. They have not shared that with us...We are a sovereign nation. We have to make our decisions as a Parliament."

With China being New Zealand's largest trading partner, Collins on Tuesday said trade was the "elephant in the room" when discussing Parliament's potential action.

Trade Minister Damien O'Connor said it was clear the Chinese government wouldn't like New Zealand declaring a genocide and there likely would be trade repercussions.

Mahuta said on Tuesday afternoon that New Zealand has consistently made its stance on issues like Xinjiang clear.

"[China is] a significant market for many of our businesses. We have been consistent in our message to New Zealand businesses that they need to build deeper resilience and we have also been consistent in our message to China. We value the relationship. However, on the issues we cannot agree on, we are very clear what that looks like."

In regards to the Government's position on whether genocide is occurring, Mahuta last week told Newshub that it needed to consider further information.

"[I have] asked for wider advice around what are the processes and considerations that go into determining a genocide," she said. "This requires complex legal and factual assessments and is not a process the Government could undertake lightly."

New Zealand has raised "grave concern" about human rights abuses in Xinjiang on several occassions. On Monday, Ardern told the China Business Summit that she had expressed her concerns with senior Chinese leaders on numerous occasions. 

A large number of independent reports released over the last few years have painted a grim picture of activities within Xinjiang where more than 1 million Uighurs are thought to be confined to concentration camps. 

While China has always denied abusing the indigenous population, saying camps are for vocational education and counter-terrorism activities, testimonials suggest the Uighurs are subjected to torture, brainwashing, forced labour and sterilisation as authorities attempt to eradicate their religion and suppress birth rates.